For over a decade, pitch decks from SaaS and PaaS companies have included slides on the evolution of computing – from mainframes to client-server, web-based to cloud & mobile. They talk about everything the cloud has unleashed and how their company has leveraged it to innovate constantly.
Recently, an innovation making headlines is “composability”.
So, what is composability?
Gartner defines composability as:
“Composable business means creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks”
Expanding the above definition: Composability allows a company to choose solutions that best address their business needs, even if different vendors provide them. There is no longer a need for them to buy everything from one vendor. Composability allows for an actual “best of breed” approach.
Gartner further outlines the importance of composability for technology adoption:
By 2023, organizations that have adopted a composable approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation
Interestingly, composable architecture is being adopted most in e-commerce as “Composable Commerce”. You might think I’m biased because I work in that domain. But, I am also a new entrant here and trust me, composability isn’t a term I’ve often come across before.
Is composability really a new concept or just another new buzzword?
In my opinion, composability is neither new nor is it a new buzzword. What has changed is how it is applied.
Let’s take a few examples from across the industry:
In manufacturing, composability was a means to achieve efficiency. When the automotive industry started, manufacturers did everything themselves – casting, machining, molding, fitting, assembling, etc. Soon, standardization allowed them to hand out specs to multiple vendors who built parts for the manufacturer to assemble (or compose). Innovation made more personalization possible without compromising composability.
In software too, composability has existed for a long time. Modular programming and applications are just that.
Vendors have leveraged composability for a long time with their product offerings. It is only now that composability is truly being extended to customers, giving them the freedom to compose their end solution themselves. And by end solution, I mean a solution that would consist of products from several vendors all seamlessly integrated with APIs.
You might ask – so what’s new? APIs have facilitated integrations for a long time. What is the big deal about composability?
And you would be right in asking so. This is my view – cross-vendor API integrations are still messy. APIs are often proprietary, poorly documented, and aren’t standardized. As a result, integrating systems from different vendors takes a long time with a very high cost, both initially and over the long term. In the examples above, composability primarily benefits the vendors.
The explosion in apps and the fragmentation within domains that we are seeing right now offers customers the opportunity to put together a solution consisting of broad and niche products from several vendors. As newer apps emerge, composability allows customers (and vendors) to quickly include them. So, this new paradigm is hugely beneficial for the customer, not just for the vendors.
What does this mean for vendors and customers?
Technology vendors, who have been focused on offering everything under one roof, either organically or through acquisitions, need to rethink their strategy. As domains specialize and fragment, technology vendors will need to focus on creating a platform that is easy to integrate with, robust, performant, and secure.
Rather than using sales techniques based on deep discounting, they will have to make their offerings composable so customers have the option to choose the best one. And rather than focusing on the entire wallet, they will have to create partnerships for shared revenues, all in the interest of the customer. In the long run, this strategy will prove to be more sustainable with a better business outlook.
System Integrators will also need to tweak their strategy. Alliances with large vendors will continue but they need to be constantly aware of the emerging ones so they can identify and recommend the best fit for a customer’s needs. They will need to coach their customers to be agile and open while forming alliances with emerging vendors.
And finally, for customers, this is the best time. But, they need to place themselves in a position where they can take advantage of this shifting dynamic. Being open to exploring products from a larger pool of vendors vs continuing to accept solutions from the existing ones will give them a much bigger advantage than their competitors and will be a better investment in the long term. Large organizations will find this difficult but they need to be agile to lead in this brutal market.
To sum up, composability is here to stay and it will be delivered through partnerships. Those who adopt it sooner will see accelerated growth, and those who don’t will slowly decline until they are forced to switch.